And now for something really scary. Krysten Ritter has played that B in Apartment 23, a mutant in Jessica Jones, and a doomed drug addict in Breaking Bad. Add to that list another surprising and diverse role: a witch who goes after children and feeds on scary stories each night. In Nightbooks — a new YA-ish movie on Netflix — Ritter stars as Natacha, who terrorizes two young kids, Alex (Winslow Fegley) and Yasmin (Lidya Jewett). Yasmin has been in Natacha’s realm for three years, while Alex just arrived. Together, even as Natacha’s creepy skinless cat, Lenore, suspiciously eyes their every move, Alex and Yasmin plot their escape from the witch’s dark realm.
Ritter clearly had a blast portraying the colorful – and colorfully attired – Natacha, and her performance is scary and entertaining, with just a hint of an eye wink so as not to send any kids watching into permanent therapy. Fatherly caught up with Ritter to chat about Nightbooks, motherhood, the possibility of revisiting the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and her next project, directing several episodes of the upcoming series, Girl in the Woods.
How did Nightbooks come along? Did it find you it or did you find it?
It found me, but then I was a few pages in, and I found it. This vibe, and this character aesthetic is very up my alley. So, I really responded to this character and the opportunity to do something unexpected, and do something I have not done before, and have a lot of fun. These are the things that I like, so I feel like I manifested this opportunity for myself, in a weird way.
Natasha wears these great, colorful gloves and massive shoes, and she’s got a wild mane of blue hair. How big a kick did you get out of her look, even early on, during costume fittings?
The costume designer, Autumn Steed, oh my God, she’s such a genius. She had such a fresh take on this. We wanted to pay homage to all the witches, but (also) really do something you’ve not seen before. Because of Natacha’s backstory of being into certain things when she was a kid, and what does she do with that now that she has magic… It’s all very well thought-out. It’s very informed by what she was and who she is. Once that (costuming and character arc) all comes together, it helps you, as a performer, really sink in to the character. It doesn’t feel like you when it all starts to come together and you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. That transformation does happen.
The film is genuinely scary. How many conversations was there about how far to push the fright factor?
David Yarovesky, our director who’s so wildly talented, had a really good handle on what temperature to play at all the time. I went for it. When I had to scare those kids, I went for it. I was like, “Leave it to the editors, and use the takes that work the best.” I think the movie is awesome because it has real scares in it, but they’re not traumatizing. It’s still fun for the whole family. It is a fun family adventure movie, but there are definitely some great scares that are very creative and unique – and that hopefully don’t totally traumatize kids.
One of the classic axioms in Hollywood is “Never work with kids or animals.” Assuming the cat was real, tell us about working with Lidya, Winslow, and Lenore’s feline double?
Lidya and Winslow are so fantastic. They were so great. Lidya and I had a great time in the hair and makeup trailer together and hanging out. My baby was there. She was so sweet with him. Winslow, he’s got a lot of experience already in his young career. He’s a real pro. I think he did a great job. There are some of his lines in the movie that just made me laugh out loud. I think both of them are going to be big stars. Yes, working with children and animals is always challenging, but that’s not a bad thing. I think there’s something to be said about working within limitations. The kids can only work a certain amount of hours, so they would go home and I would do the rest of my scenes like with an actor (stand-in), or a tennis ball. You figure out how to use that. For Natascha, she’s this larger-than-life, intimidating figure. So, I thought of her as doing a one-woman show, and everything is her stage. I thought about actresses like Joan Crawford and Bette Davis and even Lucille Ball, just going for it and putting on a show.
Was there an actual cat?
I worked with the cat once, actually, when I’m holding the cat. Other times, it was probably a tennis ball (with visual effects added in post-production).
You mentioned your baby, Bruce, who turned two this summer. Was he on set at all? What did he think of Mom in costume? And when might you let him watch Nightbooks?
He was so funny. So, I wouldn’t get dressed in my trailer like you normally do because I didn’t want him to be too confused. But he saw me in my hair and makeup and sat with me in the chair and he loved the blue hair. I did practice all of my lines on him, and he thought I was just the funniest thing ever. I look forward to the day where he can watch the movie and I can tell him he’s part of the reason why I love the movie so much.
It’s not giving anything away to say Nightbooks ends in such a way that the door is open for more. If this movie catches on with viewers, how willing would you be to playing Natacha again?
I love this character. I would love to know what she does (next). I would be there in a heartbeat, and I hope that we do another one. You never know.
Speaking of returns, if Marvel called you tomorrow and invited you back as Jessica Jones, or maybe for some other role, how ready would you be to revisit the MCU?
Oh, my God, I’d be there in a second also. I loved playing Jessica Jones more than anything. I had the best time those several years. I also appreciate so much how many women and girls connect with her in such a deep way. That means the world to me. I would be there with the boots on and the jacket, ready to go.
I felt the Jessica Jones finale did a beautiful job of wrapping up the show. It left a future for the characters — and not necessarily a happy one. And it did a good job of closing out the Netflix MCU. How satisfied were you with the way it brought everything full-circle?
The final moment of Jessica Jones… We were fortunate that we knew it wouldn’t be coming back, so we had that opportunity that not everybody gets when you’re closing out a story. It was a moment where Jessica realizes that she’s a hero, and maybe she has been this whole time. That was huge. It just felt like a beautiful moment for her as a character. I think that (showrunner) Melissa Rosenberg always did a good job of leaving things on a note where you want more, but you’re also satisfied and you feel like the character is going to be okay.
Your next project is Girl in the Woods, and you’ve directed the pilot and the three episodes that follow it. What interested you about the show?
I did the first half of the season. Girl in the Woods is just fantastic. The script is so wonderful. It’s about a girl who’s from a cult, and she is a young, badass female monster hunter who tries to start her life over in a small town and then gets pulled back into the life. So, there are some similarities to the origin story of Jessica Jones and even the Hellcats story that I directed in season three of Jessica Jones. But there’s this small town, not unlike where I’m from, and a lot of really fun, coming-of-age themes as well. There are great Crypt Monsters in it (the show is produced by Crypt, and they have a MCU-esque cadre of Crypt Monsters). It’s on Peacock and it’ll be coming out for Halloween. I had one of the most fun, creative experiences of my whole life, and I just I can’t wait for people to see it. The performances I got from these actors is so awesome. I’m just so proud of it.
How into directing are you? And what do you get out of directing that acting doesn’t give you?
It depends. It’s all the same. It’s all character development and full immersion and the energy of it. I really enjoy directing as much as I do acting. It depends on the role, right? I’m very into it. I think that I’ve had a wonderful career, where I’ve gotten to learn all sides of the business from different points of view and observe amazing directors. So, I’m thrilled that I’m now getting the opportunity to take that chair.
Since we’ve been talking about Nightbooks, and with Halloween fast approaching, who were the witches you watched as a kid? Were you a Bette Midler girl? An Angelica Huston girl?
I would say that those two are really, definitely up there. I watched all of those movies on repeat when I was getting ready to do Natacha in Nightbooks. Cruella is not a witch, but she’s witchy. I watched me a lot of Glenn Close, everything she does, because she is one of the most exciting actresses of all time. She’s just so unpredictable. But I love Angelica Huston. I love Hocus Pocus like everybody else, and I can’t wait for the new one. I even watched The Wizard of Oz, all of them. Dream role. Dream job; let me tell you.
Nightbooks is streaming on Netflix.